Metaphysical Poetry: A Short Note



The term metaphysical may be applied to any poetry which deals with spiritual or philosophical matters. But it is limited to the work of a group of poets of the seventeenth century. Metaphysical poetry is a revolt against the popular current of the time. Among these poets John Donne is the most notable. Other so-called metaphysical poets were John Cleveland, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan.
In 17th century John Dryden in his 'Discourse' said that Donne affects the metaphysics. Later on Dr. Johnson borrowed this term from Dryden's phrase and used it for a group of 17th century poets. Dr. Johnson said, ‘About the beginning of the 17th century appeared a race of writers that may be termed as metaphysical poets. They were men of learning. To show their learning was their whole endeavour. Their thoughts are often new but seldom natural. The heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’. The following are the important characteristics of metaphysical poetry:
1. Delight in novel thoughts and expression: As the Elizabethans played with words, the metaphysical poets played with thoughts. They desired to say something unique and new. They wanted to be singular in their thoughts. They were careless of their diction.
2. Fondness for Conceits: Fondness for conceits is the most striking feature of metaphysical poetry. In this poetry we find an abundant use of conceits. The conceit is an instrument to reveal wit. The conceit is a comparison between two unlike objects or things. It is a far-fetched comparison.
3. Obscurity: Obscurity is one of the important features of the metaphysical poetry. In this poetry we find obscurity and vagueness of the subject. The metaphysical poets frequently combine dissimilar ideas. Thus their poetry is harsh, obscure and puzzling.
4. Learning: The metaphysical poets were men of learning. Their poetry reveals their scholarship. To show learning is their chief object. They twisted their vast learning in their poetry. Due to this metaphysical poetry became very difficult to understand.
5. Wit: Wit is one of the important features of metaphysical poetry. Passion, sentiment and sensuality are subordinated to wit. The heterogeneous material is compelled into unity by the rapid association of thoughts.
6. Religious and amorous: Metaphysical poetry may be classified into two broad divisions of amorous and religious verse. The former was written by Thomas Carew and John Suckling and the latter by George Herbert, Richard Crashaw and Henry Vaughan.

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